Alys Fowler

How to grow tomatoes

Learn everything you need to know about growing and maintaining tomatoes with Alys Fowler.

Types of tomatoes

There are two types of tomatoes; Cordon (indeterminate) and Bush (determinate). Bush tomatoes could potentially grow forever. However, Cordon tomatoes are the types that have their side shoots removed (see the video!). In order to get your fruit to ripen in our short summers you have to ‘stop’ them. This means pinching out the growing tip when you have five trusses of fruit on the plant.

Bush tomatoes are hassle free, meaning you don’t have to worry about any pinching out or removing side shoots. These tomatoes are ideal for pots and containers if you don’t have much space, but you want to give the roots room. The more space they have the less watering you’ll have to do!

Hints to growing and maintaining your tomatoes

  • Tomatoes are good companions with basil. Growing tomatoes in a pot with basil will help keep off whitefly and improve flavour. 
  • Tomatoes are susceptible to a disease called blight. This looks like brown splodges over the leaves and eventually the stems. It rots the fruit and quickly kills the whole plant. It is worst in wet summers, so if you get lots of brown splotches very quickly pull up the plant and throw it away because this disease spreads fast. 
  • Tomatoes are fans of milk! There is some evidence that spraying milky water on the leaves of tomato plants might help prevent blight. It’s one way to use gone off milk...
  • Tomatoes are fickle things, if you don’t water them consistently then they get something called bottom end rot on their fruit. This causes the end of the fruit to turn black and rot. It means you watered a lot and then watered too little.
  • Tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene! The amino acid that is in the fruit is very good for your health. Lycopene is easier for the body to process if the tomato has been cooked first. Good, wholesome ketchup (as in one not made with loads of sugar) is actually one of your five a day!
  • Tomatoes should never, ever be put in the fridge. Storing tomatoes below 10 degree Celsius ruins the flavour.
  • Tomatoes are easy to germinate. You could put a fresh tomato slice in a pot and cover it with a layer of compost and all of the seeds would germinate. You’d get a tomato shaped pattern of seedlings. In fact, if you find a tomato that you love the flavour of, save the seeds and sprout them yourself!

Watering, feeding and pollination 

Tomatoes are hungry, so once you see flowers forming start feeding your tomatoes. They will need feeding every week with a liquid feed, or every four weeks with slow release feeds like chicken manure pellets.

The more you water your tomatoes, the more they grow. But be careful not to over water them as this can affect the flavour of the fruit.

Tomato plants are pollinated best by big bumblebees that buzz at the right frequency for the pollen to dislodge. When commercial tomato growing first started all the plants had to be hand pollinated before they learnt how to domesticate bumblebees. At one point they even experimented using vibrations with paintbrushes, to make the job faster!